Sunday, December 2, 2012

Greg Monroe And DeMarcus Cousins: Draft Steals

**This was written in September 2010


Both standing at 6’11, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe are opposite sides of the same coin. In a league where height, especially skilled height, is at a premium, both slipped into the middle of the lottery (Cousins to the Kings at #5 and Monroe to the Pistons at #7) when they should have been in the top 3 of the draft.

Talent was never the question for either – Cousins is a premier low post scorer while Monroe is an incredibly skilled big man. Instead it was concerns about how each approached the game, approaches stemming from two different perspectives on how to play a game while physically dominating your peers.

Before the draft, Cousins measured as one of the most imposing specimens in recent memory – at a solid 270 pounds and with a massive 7’5 wingspan. Add a skill-set, complete with excellent footwork and soft hands, to match his size, and he has been unguardable nearly his entire life.

He rampaged through the NCAA, ranking second in the nation in PER and establishing himself as one of the most efficient scorers and rebounders in recent memory. On the rare occasion when he matched up with a pro prospect like Vanderbilt’s Andrew Ogilvy who could possibly deal with his physicality, he could still overwhelm him with an actual low-post game.

Asides from the occasional match-up with fellow draftee Derrick Favors in AAU ball, it’s entirely possible Cousins has never played against anyone as talented as himself since he entered maturity. If you’ve scored at will ever since you picked up a basketball, why would you listen to anyone? And with his biological father out of the picture, who could possibly tell him anything?

Even worse, AAU basketball, the loosely-regulated summer-league season where the best prospects are scouted and measured since the age of 13, is guard-dominated. In the same way that quarterbacks control the football by determining which receiver gets it, big men are at the mercy of their guards to feed them in the post. And the guards on Cousins’ teams undoubtedly had their own agenda; no one impresses a college scout with a post entry pass.

As the AAU games around him turned into lightly-coached track-meets, Cousins’ anger would be understandable. With his size and skill level, when he got the basketball, he was going to score. He just had to wait while players less talented than him took unbalanced fadeaways and uncontrolled drives at the basket, all the while ignoring their unstoppable big man. When he did get the ball, there was only one thing over-matched opponents could do — cheap shot him and try to get into his head.

While Cousins chafed at the guards ignoring his size, Monroe took the opposite approach. If the guards wouldn’t give him the basketball, he would just take it himself. That’s how a 6’10 sixteen-year old develops the ball-handling and passing skills of a wing player.

Extremely skilled big men love to show off that skill; after all they aren’t just brutes their traveling teams picked up due to their size. In a way they can become ashamed of it, they are as skilled as their smaller teammates, and they can make things happen at 6’10 or at 6’4. Everyone assumes it’s easy for them to dominate because they’re so big; they want to show the world they’re talented too.

So while scouts questioned Cousins maturity and anger-management while he shared the ball with three other first-round picks at Kentucky, Monroe was more than eager to show off the complete game he had fine-tuned over the years. He averaged nearly 4 assists a game, a full assist more than anyone else at his position, and almost unheard of for someone playing almost exclusively in the post.

So scouts wondered why this 6’11 guy wasn’t dominating games. Was he just not aggressive enough? Did he not have enough passion for it? Both were 19 and 20 year olds growing into their bodies and unlearning the lessons of adolescence, and both put up excellent numbers at the highest level of college basketball. And according to John Hollinger’s Player Rater, Cousins ranks as first and Monroe as fourth for projected PER as rookies.

This doesn’t even take into account the defensive value of their sheer size and length – with Cousins’ wingspan at 7’5 and Monroe’s at 7’2 – especially given Monroe’s ability to play the high post as a power forward. After passing a certain baseline of athleticism (i.e. the Omar Samhan test), never bet against size, skill and production when looking at college prospects. Just as Brook Lopez was the steal of the 2008 draft at #10, we’ll be saying the same things about Monroe and Cousins in a few years.

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